In 1939, the United States needed to quickly expand the number of U.S. aviators. In June of that year, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Civilian Pilot Training Act into law. The law not only strengthened our national defense prior to entering World War II, but opened up pilot training to many who would never have had an opportunity to fly. It enabled the expansion of an experimental program to train civilian pilots through educational institutions.
The 1938 prototype program had involved 330 pilots and 13 colleges. The new Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) called for training 11,000 pilots during the 1939-1940 school year. The Civilian Aviation Authority (CAA) contracted with many universities, including Norwich University, which collectively trained over 9,000 men and women in every state of the union. Once the United States entered the war, the CPTP was transformed into a wartime program.
The first students in New England to graduate from the program were Norwich students. By 1941, Norwich had graduated more than 100 licensed pilots from the program. As a result, prior to the formation of a distinct Air Force branch, Norwich alumni served in all major aviation units in World War II, including the Army Air Force, Navy, and Marines.
In 1943, after the United States had joined the war, the entire Corps of Cadets deployed for active duty, and Norwich was designated a regional training center for future airmen. Known as the 56th College Training Detachment and administered by the Army Air Corps, the center provided pre-flight training to 1,772 men destined to serve their country from the skies as bombardiers, pilots, and navigators. Every month, 120 cadets received flight training in Cubs and Aeroncas at the Barre-Montpelier Airport in Berlin. Though their time at Norwich was often just a matter of months, many graduates of the program felt an affinity for the campus that lasted throughout their lives.
In all, some 300,000 pilots were trained in the War Training Service phase of the program, which lasted until June 30, 1944, for the Army and August 4, 1944 for the Navy. By the time the Civilian Pilot Training Program/War Training Service ended in 1944, the program had operated at 1,132 colleges and universities and 1,460 flight schools, and had trained over 435,000 pilots. In the end, the program successfully accomplished its goal of strengthening our national defense by increasing the number of pilots. At the same time, it attracted talent that went on to become fabled aviators and provided new opportunities for Americans from a variety of backgrounds.
By George H. Kabel ’70 with contributions from the Norwich Record and Peter Ballard, son of Norwich flight instructor Horace Ballard. You can learn more about Norwich in the war by visiting the Norwich University Archives.